The 11th International Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory (InteR-La+B) on ENVIRONMENT was held in Università Cattolica on 13 September 2022.
Professor Alberto Quadrio Curzio, as President of the Balzan Foundation, thanked the Rector, Franco Anelli, for hosting the event and welcomed the participants. The Rector in his opening address focused on the common vision shared by the University’s founders and Interlab. Intergenerational dialogue and engagement between senior and junior scholars are fundamental to keeping research alive and projecting toward future progress, which requires knowledge. Interdisciplinarity is needed to address the increasingly complex world since the range of implications of a single aspect cannot be addressed outside of the whole. New ideas are needed that come from the mutual recognition of specialist knowledge and cooperation between the sciences and the humanities.
The day’s discussions revolved mainly around the work of two main speakers: Joan Martìnez Alier, 2020 Balzan Prizewinner for Environmental Challenges, and Eva Kondorosi, 2018 Balzan Prizewinner for Chemical Ecology.
Joan Martìnez Alier, Professor Emeritus at Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, won the Balzan Prize for Environmental Challenges: Responses from the Social Sciences and the Humanities, with the following citation: «for the exceptional quality of his contributions to the foundation of ecological economics, his pathbreaking analysis of the relationships between economies and the environment, his interdisciplinary as well as comparative approach, and his active role in the promotion of environmental justice.»
He kicked off the morning session on the general theme: The EJATLAS. The Making of World Movements for Environmental Justice excellently moderated by D’Maris Coffman, Director of BSSC (Built Environment at The Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction) and Professor in Economics and Finance of the Built Environment at the Bartlett, UCL as well as Editor-in-Chief and Coordinating Editor of Elsevier’s Structural Change and Economic Dynamics. He gave an overview of the Environmental Justice Atlas (EJATLAS) which is a unique, online inventory of the main ecological conflicts and their cultural expressions based on scholarly and activist knowledge.
Martìnez Alier started his presentation with the affirmation that the industrial economy is not circular but entropic and with this basis, moved on to discuss the concept of environmental justice as degrowth in practice. The framework in which to set the database is within a global environmental justice movement, and related themes, on which activists from the global North and South focus in connection with environmental issues and more specifically fossil fuels. He believes that while the world needs to unite to decrease carbon emissions, the Global South is already paying the price of the Global North’s economic progress, which should be offset by the North’s degrowth. Three members of his team then presented cases from EJTLAS on India, China and the Arctic Circle.
Roberto Zoboli, Deputy Rector for Scientific Research and Sustainability, Professor of Economic Policy, and Director of ASA – Graduate School for Environmental Studies – at Università Cattolica, closed the morning session with six thought-provoking considerations, clearly highlighting the myriad complexities that must be addressed when discussing the environmental economic framework delineated by Prof. Martinez Alier.
Eva Kondorosi is the Research Director of the Institute of Plant Biology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Centre of Excellence and the 2018 Balzan Prizewinner for Chemical Ecology «For her important contributions to chemical ecology through her ground-breaking studies of the molecular biology of the symbiosis between legume plants and nitrogen-fixing bacteria, including the identification of nodulation genes and Nod factor family components, expression of nodulation genes by flavonoids, and cell cycle regulation and bacteroid differentiation during the establishment of the symbiosis.»
She began the afternoon session dedicated to Plants for the Benefit of the Environment and Sustainable Future, with a detailed presentation on nitrogen fertilizers, the energy intensity required for their production, their undesirable consequences including human-enhanced greenhouse effects which are much more dangerous than carbon emissions, and how nitrogen fixation engineering and practices can support sustainable agriculture and provide tangible hope for further positive actions and prospects. A member of her team gave an update on the research, funded with the Balzan Prize money, on: “Can NCR peptides enhance nitrogen fixation in soybeans and other legumes.” The research demonstrates that new plant breeding techniques are possible thus providing new possibilities for more sustainable agriculture using less nitrogen, in fact, if nitrogen fixation were made possible for three major crops, it could change the world. Fortunately, NCR peptides (of which there are more than 700) are a gold mine of new biological activities.
The afternoon session was chaired by Paolo de Bernardis, 2006 Balzan Prizewinner for Observational Astronomy and Astrophysics, who was also part of the round table, chaired by Roberto Scazzieri, Lincei Fellow, Professor at Bologna University and Senior Member of Gonville and Caius College, and Life Member of Clare Hall at the University of Cambridge, discussed some of the takeaways from the day.
Alberto Quadrio Curzio, Professor Emeritus in Economics at Università Cattolica, closed the day with his interpretation of the main points provided by the key speakers, Professors Martinez Alier and Kondorosi, and the moderators, Professors Coffman, de Bernardis and Scazzieri, and stressed need to continue interdisciplinary collaborations focusing on complementarity rather than competition to address crucial issues like scarcity of natural resources, the need for stronger international institutions, and greater support of the United Nations Development Goals and NextGenerationEU. When looking at progress and the future of civilization, it should be noted that economics has changed radically over the years from the models of Jan Tinbergen and John Hicks to microeconomists focusing on markets and the theory of agents, forgoing the long-run perspective. Sustainable development requires interdisciplinarity for sustainable agriculture. The journal Economia Politica recently published a Special Issue on “Women pandemics and the Global South”, the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World, also provided a contribution. Their President, Jennifer Thomson is a world-renowned microbiologist dedicated to promoting sustainable development. Two other contributions of crucial importance to the Special Issue were from Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and Indian development economist, Bina Agarwal.
Matteo Borri, Scientific Secretary, and Alberto Quadrio Curzio, President of InteR-La+B, are preparing a volume marking the first ten years of InteR-La+b projects with the key figures and events. The themes that have been addressed are Experiments (2012), Energy and mega-cities (2013), Time (2014), Utopias (2015), Innovation (2016), Science and light (2017), Memory (2018), Brain (2019), Pandemics (2021), and most recently Environment (2022).
The English summary was written by Micaela Tavasani (CRANEC, Università Cattolica)
and integrated and validated by Alberto Quadrio Curzio (Balzan) and Matteo Borri (INDIRE).